Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. However, unlike the other forms of cancer, cervical cancer can be cured if it is discovered early on. That’s why cervical screening tests are necessary.
Cervical cancer usually has no apparent symptoms in the primary stages. The commonest symptom is bleeding from the vagina, which can happen between menstrual periods, post menopause, or even after sexual intercourse. Any abnormal bleeding must be carefully checked out by the doctor. If the doctor suspects that you have cancer symptoms, you must be referred to a specialist within two weeks.
Screening for Cervical Cancer
Over many years, the cells covering the cervix change quite a bit. Sometimes, these cells can turn cancerous. However, changes in the cervix at a cellular level are easily detectable at an early stage and timely treatment can help treat cervical cancer. Women between the ages of 25 to 49 years should be screened every third year and every fifth year to those in the 50 to 64 age group. Women older than 65 years should be screened more often, especially if they have had any tests that were abnormal.
What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV or the human papillomavirus. HPV is quite a common virus, which can be easily transmitted through sexual contact with either a woman or man. Over 100 types of HPV are present, although many of them are harmless. However, some kinds of HPV can cause unusual changes to the cervix that often lead to the development of cervical cancer.
There are two types of HPV (HPV 16 and HPV 18), which are responsible for two-thirds of all cervical cancer cases. These kinds of HPV show no symptoms, and hence, remain undetected. Still, it is vital to know that these are common and not all patients who are affected by the disease will progress to cervical cancer. Protection from contracting HPV during sexual intercourse can be prevented by using condoms. However, the infection cannot always be prevented since the virus can also be transmitted through direct skin contact in the genital area.
The treatment for cervical cancer depends on different factors such as the stage of cancer, the patient's overall health, and the patient's plans of having children. Prior to treatment, a cancer specialist (oncologist), must discuss with the patient all pertinent information such as advantages and disadvantages, success rate, and possible side effects regarding the treatment of choice.
The treatment options for cervical cancer may include one or a combination of the following methods:
The treatment to be given by the oncologist will also depend on what is the appropriate goal for the current condition of the patient. In some cases, a cervical cancer treatment aims to cure the disease. It is a fact that cervical cancer can be treated successfully if it is detected early on. However, there are cases where cancer goes back after quite some time, so doctors prefer a “remission” than “cure”.
Remission is the term used when all cancer cells were eliminated following treatment. In some cases, treatment is done to control cancer. It involves limiting the growth of the tumor or preventing cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. For the advanced stages of cervical cancer, the goal of treatment is to ease the symptoms and make the life of the patient more comfortable.
In chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs are used to kill cancer cells, thereby stopping them from multiplying. Chemotherapy may be used in combination with surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy has been effective in the battle against cancer. However, healthy cells are also killed in the process, making the patient weak and vulnerable to acquire other health problems that can aggravate their current condition.
Medications for Cervical Cancer
In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its approval to Avastin (generic name bevacizumab). It is a drug that is used to treat patients with late-stage, advanced, and aggressive cervical cancer. It severely decreases blood supply to the tumor and slows down the growth of cancer cells. Avastin interferes with the development of the cancer cells, but it has many side effects such as headache, weight reduction, urinary tract infection, high blood glucose, high blood pressure, less appetite, and general tiredness.
High-energy beams are used during a radiotherapy. The beams are focused on the area where the cancerous tissue is found. Similar to chemotherapy, this treatment method kills cancer cells, thus, ceasing them to multiply. There are two types of radiotherapy that are used for the treatment of cervical cancer. They are external and internal radiation.
- External radiation - is the most common type, which is used in any form of cancer. With the use of a machine, radiation is delivered on the cancer cells.
- Internal radiation - uses a small radioactive implant, which will be placed in the vagina, next to the malignant tumor. Internal radiotherapy is also called as "brachytherapy."
Radiotherapy alone can treat the early stage of cervical cancer and could also be an alternative for surgery. For the advanced stages of cervical cancer, radiotherapy may be used to reduce the size of secondary tumors due to metastasis.
If cancer is detected at its early stage, surgery can be curative. In some cases, surgeons only need to remove the part of the cervix where the cancer cells grew in order to save the uterus. Thus, the chance of having children is still possible.
Hysterectomy is commonly performed as a treatment procedure for cervical cancer. It involves the removal of the cervix and the uterus (or womb). If cancer has already spread, an extensive surgery may be needed, or surgery is still advised in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Surgery may also be done to ease the symptoms caused by cervical cancer.
This radical surgery is only used if cancer is widespread. This treatment method is usually reserved for more advanced cases. Exenteration or evisceration may remove the uterus, pelvic lymph nodes, urinary bladder, vagina, anus, and parts of the colon. This type of surgery depends on how advanced cancer has become.
Cervical cancer awareness is required in today’s times. This article serves as a guide to show that no matter what stage your cancer might be in, it still can be treated.